Viewing entries tagged
creative

Single Thread: Soon to be a Michelin 3 star restaurant

2 Comments

Single Thread: Soon to be a Michelin 3 star restaurant

IMG_6997.jpg

SingleThread, an inn, farm and restaurant in Healdsburg, California, opened at the very end of 2016. I visited the restaurant four months after opening, and I have never had a more perfectly curated restaurant experience. I was in Napa for the Culinary Institute of America's annual World of Flavor conference (very likely the best food conference each year), and was lucky enough to secure a reservation. 

When I walked in, I was greeted by name and was invited to take a look into the kitchen before heading up to the roof for a drink. Chef Kyle Connaughton came over to the window to say hi and asked me how the conference was going. I asked him how he knew I was at the conference and he said, 'We know things." We both laughed and chatted about the conference. A lot of restaurants claim to do their homework on their guests, but SingleThread really does.

The next stop in the flawlessly curated evening was the roof top patio. I was greeted with a drink of purple sweet potato bush and oroblanco. It was tart and refreshing. It was a perfectly clear, blue, and warm Sonoma county day. After a few minutes, one of the servers brought over some snacks nestled amongst a plate of foliage. The four bites prepared me for the visual perfection, immensely fresh vegetables, and creativity of the meal to come. It was clear that the SingleThread farm was providing gorgeous produce for the restaurant.

IMG_7113.jpg

I was escorted into a stunning dining room where many of the tables faced the kitchen. The far wall of the kitchen is shelf after shelf of Japanese donabe cooking vessels, simple yet elegant. The table was already set with a bounty of foliage and hidden bites. My favorite items in this first barrage of delightful bites were malted potato with caramelized onions and turbot, creamy egg with caviar and spinach purée, and tuna loin cured with seaweed and flavored with with house-aged ponzu, and scallop crudo with shiso vinaigrette. 

Every one of the ten courses that came out after the initial offering were surprising in different ways. The trout cooked in a donabe was one of my favorites. It was served over a vinaigrette made with shio koji and topped with trout roe. Koji is the fungus used to make soy sauce, miso and sake, and shio koji is a salted liquid that is used as a marinade and sauce which contains enzymes that help break down proteins which releases free glutamate, the main source of umami. The trout itself was cooked flawlessly. It had the perfect doneness of fish cooked sous vide, but with a firm texture and a very slight smoky flavor. It was perfect, and nothing I've ever seen before. It was paired with a yellow tumeric and grenadine cocktail with smoked sea salt, which was a superb pairing. Another of my favorite dishes was foie gras with turnips, spinach and tomato tea made from dehydrated tomatoes from their farm. I have never had foie gras with turnips before, but I do hope to again.

I was driving back to St. Helena after dinner, so I opted for the non-alcoholic pairing. Non-alcoholic pairings are definitely a test of how seriously a restaurant takes its bar program. At Noma, their juice pairing was fascinating, full of non-alcoholic fermented vegetable and fruit juices. At Coi, the tea pairing was a first of its kind and I learned a lot that night. SingleThread was by far the best non-alcoholic pairing I've ever had. It is head and shoulders above any other in my experience. Every drink was unique, superbly paired, something I had never come across before, delicious, and in the most beautiful glassware from Japan. The glass maker is Kimura in Japan. 

As you can see, I was inordinately impressed by SingleThread. Some people may find the heavily Japanese inflected food a bit light or subtle, and I do think there is room to continue to improve the food. But let me be clear, that would mean taking a few things from very good to great, or great to amazing, as everything was at least very good. Considering that the restaurant has only been open for four months, they have achieved the nearly impossible. I predict that they will have 3 Michelin stars when the San Francisco Bay Area guide comes out in October. In all of my travels and all of my restaurant visits, I have never had such a perfectly choreographed evening. 

2 Comments

Gaggan: #1 Restaurant in Asia

Comment

Gaggan: #1 Restaurant in Asia

I had spent the previous 24 hours in bed, and I was not sure I was going to make it to dinner. About 4pm the previous day I got very cold, in Thailand. By American standards, it’s really hot in Bangkok all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME.  But that night I wore a long sleeved shirt and a jacket to dinner and I didn’t take it off all night. I had been really excited about my three nights in Bangkok because I had reservations at Issaya Siamese ClubNahm, and Gaggan, the #21, #5 and #1 ranked restaurants in Asia, respectively, according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. 

I had been to Nahm before and had been blown away by the citrus, chilis and funky flavors that meld into beautiful harmonies. Most people don’t think of Thai food as fine dining, but David Thompson can easily change that opinion. Unfortunately, that night the food didn’t sparkle like it did the first time. I could barely eat more than a few bites of each dish, not because the food wasn’t wonderful, but because I felt so full. When I returned to my hotel after dinner, I realized I was sick, and likely had been since the afternoon. I got in bed and stayed there. And throughout that night and day, I worried. Not about being sick and alone in a foreign land, not about all the things I’d eaten on my culinary walking tour that day, and not about anything except whether or not I was going to make it to Gaggan. The time ticked by and I alternated between sleeping and worrying. By 3pm I could sit up and watch TV. By 4pm I was starting to get bored by sleeping, lying down and watching movies. That is always a good sign for me and usually means I’m getting better, so I decided to risk it. I showered and headed downstairs, and was extremely relieved to feel really hot as soon as I exited the hotel lobby. Maybe I was going to make it to Gaggan after all.

The restaurant is down a short alley off the main street. As per usual in Southeast Asia, never judge a destination by the griminess of the path to get there. You never know what you will find, and in this case it’s a bright, welcoming fusion of a colonial building with an ultra modern glass entryway. This is the perfect setting for the melding of traditional and modern food inside. Gaggan is a modern Indian restaurant started by Chef Gaggan Anand in 2010. Chef Gaggan had been frustrated with the status of Indian food in the world, and he set out to change that by cooking fine dining, modernist Indian food. He has succeeded dramatically, winning the top spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the last two years in a row. 

When I sat down, I found the menu on the table and it was written in emojis, 21 of them. The titles of the dishes are not given until the end of the meal. Until the last savory dish of crab curry, the dishes are one or two bites of beauty and intensity. Surprisingly, this is a great way to eat after 24 hours in bed suffering from what was likely food poisoning. One bite at a time over the course of many hours is the perfect way to recover! And if you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok and have a reservation at the best restaurant in Asia, it’s also the most delicious way to recover. 

I loved the creativity of the entire menu. My two favorite dishes were the yogurt explosion and the chutoro sushi. Spherification has almost become a cliche in creativity driven modernist kitchens, but not at Gaggan. The key is that it tastes amazing. It is tart and sweet, with subtle flavors of cumin. If yogurt was always this good, we would all live to 100. The chutoro sushi was another great example of over-the-top flavor combined with originality and creativity. Good fatty tuna sushi is a gift from the food gods, but every sushi restaurant in the world carries it. No one else has Gaggan's version though. The rice in the sushi is a crisp, dry foam that dissolved on my tongue. My guess is that it is a dehydrated tight foam made from pureed rice. Chef Gaggan has more than proved that Indian food can be luxurious, creative and modern. If you are in Bangkok, I hope you get the chance to experience it.

Comment